Wendy and her husband Darrel planted Manitoulin Community Church in July of 2015 in the rural town of Tehkummah on Manitoulin Island. They have seen such tremendous growth in MCC the last three years! We sometimes think and hear that rural church planting doesn’t work and that church multiplication is reserved for urban areas. That is simply not true, and MCC is just one of many rural churches proving that narrative wrong. We know you will really enjoy what Wendy has to share in this interview!
PF: Why church planting?
WP: Church planting appealed to my husband and I for a few reasons. We are both very entrepreneurial and have ideas continually flooding our minds on new adventures to begin. The idea of being able to use these qualities for the kingdom truly was, to us, the opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to start a church and evangelize the area, to walk the journey with new Christians, teaching them who Jesus is and watch them grow in faith, is very exciting! Challenging, but incredible all the same. Knowing we could start a church from the ground up without preconceived ideas of how church was to be run was very freeing as well. We didn't have to worry about traditions, what has been done and how it’s been done for the past 50 years. We were able to seek God for the vision and go for it from day one!
PF: How did you get started in Manitoulin?
WP: We started friendships with people in the community. We spent a few months prior to opening the church taking time to get to know people and allow them to get to know us. Darrel got a job as a salesman in an oil company, supplying furnace oil and supplies for air conditioners, heating, etc. I am a hairstylist as well as a pastor, so I opened a hair salon in my home. Both of our jobs allowed us to get to know people in the community and let them know that we were going to be opening a church. We had people into our home for coffee or a meal or met with them at restaurants to build friendships. Once the church opened, we extended our community relationship-building by hosting different community events. Ladies’ nights out, clothing giveaways, pancake breakfasts, men's wild game nights, kids camps and events, community baseball, Winterfest—anything to bring people in, have fun, and bring a Gospel message into the event.
PF: What kind of culture are you hoping to create in your church?
WP: We work hard to be very community-oriented. We want to always be aware of the needs in our community and do what we can to meet those needs. As a church, we have been able to establish a huge family atmosphere that is very welcoming to new people coming in. We have coffee and goodies after every service and potluck lunches every month, to allow the church family lots of time to fellowship together. It is very important to us and to our leadership that every person is made to feel important, wanted and included! We truly are a family.
PF: What kind of impact is your church making in the community?
WP: We are very well known in the community. If you ask at a restaurant, store, or post office where the Manitoulin Community Church is, they will be able to direct you to our location. We are known as the “friendly church that has lots going on.” On many occasions, we have been approached by Town Council to be a part of community events and have been offered the use of community facilities at no cost. A local sign company made our “kids camp” ad signs free of charge because (according to the owner) “we do so much for the community.” Not only do we host a variety of events for all ages, we also give back to the community by being involved in the food bank, allowing our building to be used for public meetings, and helping to meet the needs of those in our community.
PF: What has been the hardest part of planting in a rural community?
WP: In the beginning it was a challenge to have people trust us. We needed to show that we were in it for the long haul, not just there for a year or two and then on to something bigger or better. “How long are you here for?” was a regular weekly question. Having them commit to attending church on a regular basis was a challenge. That, in turn, created a challenge financially, because they weren’t ready to put money into something that they weren’t sure would last. We were extremely thankful for donations from outside sources and PAOC support. In our first six months of opening, it was normal to have only two or three people in the congregation. Each Sunday morning, my husband and I would watch out the window and pray someone would come! I cried out to God many times, asking Him if we had made a mistake or if we heard wrong. But He continued telling me to persevere. It was very challenging to preach a sermon and not be tempted to shorten it into a devotional. I made the decision in the beginning that I would preach each week as if the room was full. So we went forward with worship, announcements, offering time and sermon as if it was a full church. Soon after the six-month mark, the church began to fill and now we are almost filled to capacity.
PF: What does self-care look like for you as a leader?
WP: I take one day off a week from the salon and church office. I create a message on my phone stating that it is my day off, so my phone does not get answered on that specific day. I take one hour a day, six days a week to do exercise. For me this is “my time” to do something for me and for my health. I do my prayer and devotions every evening before bed and always start my day in prayer before my feet hit the floor, to give my day to the Lord. My devotional time is separate from my sermon prep time, as I need time for the Lord to fill me up before I can give out to others. My husband and I usually do a “date night” or a “date walk” once or twice a month to be sure we are connecting properly. One of the best ideas I have had was to start a prayer group on Facebook with all the ladies from the church. At one time, my phone was being filled throughout the day with prayer requests—anything from “someone has a cold” to “my cows go out of the pen.” With this group in place, they can share their prayer requests with one another. The ladies love that they can pray for one another and it saves me from having to deal with all the smaller situations constantly throughout the day. Learning to delegate in all areas, even in small prayer requests, has been a learning experience, but great self-care as well.
PF: Any words of wisdom or advice for those thinking about church multiplication?
WP: Never give up! Persevere even if no one comes! The community is watching and they will eventually respond. Build relationships first. Get to know people and let them get to know and trust you. Be REAL! People see through fake and they won’t respond. They want to know who you truly are. Be Jesus with skin on to all! Remember you can’t do everything yourself. Delegate. Giving people little jobs not only frees you up, but gives them ownership of this new adventure. Even if they aren’t solid in their faith yet, they can still help in certain areas. Everyone wants to feel like they matter and have purpose. Get involved in your community outside of church events. Be creative in reaching your community. Find what the need is and meet it. You need to know the people you are reaching. What might work in one community may not work in yours. Be OK with failing—not every idea works. Most importantly, my biggest words of advice: Ground yourself in your relationship with Christ like never before! Be sure He is your best friend! Talk to him daily! Get in the Word daily! This truly is the only thing that kept me persevering in those early months when no one was coming. I doubted myself so many times. If it weren’t for the fact that I made sure I made time with Him, I would have given up for sure!
Look out for more interviews from fellow church planters in the coming months. Email your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.